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Machine Learning Helps Power Down Electricity Theft in Jamaica

Anna Lerner's picture
  • In Jamaica, about a quarter of electricity produced is stolen or “lost” through non-paying customers and/or accounting errors. Manual detection has failed to make a difference in reducing this theft.
  • ESMAP’s technical assistance team implemented a machine learning model to help Jamaican utility JPS identify and decrease incidents of theft.
  • The machine learning model is based on an open source code, and is available for free to any utility.
About a quarter of the electricity produced by Jamaica’s energy utility, Jamaica Public Service (JPS) is stolen. When traditional, labor-intensive methods failed to produce lasting results, Jamaica tried a different approach: machine learning.
 
Globally, billions of dollars are lost every year due to electricity theft, wherein electricity is distributed to customers but is never paid for. In 2014 alone, Jamaica’s total power transmission and distribution system reported 27% of losses (due to technical and non-technical reasons), close to double the regional average. While the utility company absorbs a portion of the cost, it also passes some of that cost onto consumers. Both actors therefore have an incentive to want to change this.
 
To combat this, JPS would spend more than $10 million (USD) on anti-theft measures every year, only to see theft numbers temporarily dip before climbing back up again. The problem was, these measures relied primarily on human-intensive, manual detection, and customers stealing electricity used more and more sophisticated ways to go around regularly metered use. JPS employees would use their institutional knowledge of serial offenders and would spend hours poring over metering data to uncover irregular patterns in electricity usage to identify shady accounts. But it wasn’t enough to effectively quash incidents of theft.

Policy shifts to strengthen China’s power sector reform

Yao Zhao's picture
Over the past few years, China saw more investment and installation in renewable energy than any other country in the world. In fact, in the period between 2010 and 2015, investment in the sector reached $377 billion, more than the next two countries - the United States and Germany – combined. China has 150 GW wind power and 77 GW solar photovoltaic power capacity compared to the U.S., for example, which has 80 GW in wind and 35 GW solar PV.

China has performed well above the global average, shined as the regional leader in East Asia, matched, if not outperformed, OCED countries in many dimensions, many countries with much lower investments and capacity have scored higher on renewable energy indicators.

Why the discrepancy?

The World Bank's Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy (RISE) could shed some light on the issue. Launched in February 2017, RISE is a policy scorecard of unprecendented breadth and depth covering energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy in 111 countries. It focuses on regulatory frameworks in these countries and measures that are within the direct responsibility of policy-makers. The result is based on data made available to the team at the end of 2015 and thoroughly validated.
 
 

Powering Sub-Saharan Africa – A fresh take on an old problem

Masami Kojima's picture
Man looking at electricity meters in Bamako, Mali 
Pic: Aarthi Sivaraman/World Bank

“If there is one thing that could really help my business, it would be reliable power supply,” said David, a small business owner in Lagos, on my recent trip to Nigeria.
“I agree. If only …,” echoed another.

And not without reason.

Africa lags every other region in the world when it comes to electricity access for its people. Only one in three Sub-Saharan Africans has access to electricity. That’s less than half of the rate of access in South Asia, the region with the second-lowest access rate. If we were to measure access to “reliable” electricity, then those numbers would be even more dismal.

Worryingly, the rate of access has been increasing at a mere 5 percentage points every decade, against population growth of 29 percent. If something is not done to dramatically change this trend, Africa will not see universal access to electricity in the 21st century. This is a seriously worrying prospect as the world races toward a 2030 deadline of universal access to electricity.

The target of achieving universal access by 2030 by the U.N.’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative and the billions of dollars committed by the U.S. government’s Power Africa plan underline the urgency of the situation. As a reminder, more than 1 billion people around the world still live without access to electricity and 600 million of those live in Africa.

So, are Africa’s utilities financially equipped to respond to this call?

Are stars aligning for clean energy financing?

Håvard Halland's picture
How sovereign and hybrid funds may help address climate change 

Solar power in FYR Macedonia. Photo by Tomislav Georgiev / World Bank.


One of the biggest bangs at the opening day of the Paris COP21 climate summit was without doubt the dual financing announcements by the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, led by Bill Gates and other high-net-worth individuals, and the Mission Innovation, whose signatory governments have committed to doubling their allocations to clean energy research. The two initiatives aim to increase financing for clean energy innovation, from the basic research stage, funded by governments, to commercialization of promising new technologies—with venture financing provided by private investors.

In developing countries, where many households and companies have very limited access to energy, new clean energy technologies will serve the dual purpose of expanding energy access and constraining carbon emissions. For this to happen, innovative thinking will be needed not only in the development of new technology, but also in financing the deployment of these technologies.

The two initiatives announced in Paris reflect the realization that carbon dioxide emissions would continue to rise even if every commitment to cut carbon emissions were fulfilled. By 2035, the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere will already exceed the estimated levels required to maintain the internationally agreed 2 degrees Celsius limit. The development of new technologies will increase the options available to efficiently address climate change.